Thursday, August 17, 2017

A moment of distraction

The photo above is one I shared to Instagram two days ago. The reason I shared it was that I needed something a little light that day, so when I saw the barstools, a sarcastic post was the only natural conclusion to the adventure. I never intended to share it here, but the reason I'm now sharing it is the same reason I did then: I need a distraction.

The day I posted the photo was the same day that Don—who I’ve now started calling “P45”*—made his infamous fiery defence of nazis and white supremacists. I saw his idiotic rant several times that day in different contexts, and each time I found myself yelling at whatever screen I was facing. Of course I knew that was pointless, but I also found that I was feeling an irrational, instinctive rage every time I heard that man defend nazis.

So when I saw those barstools and thought they were funny, I shapped a photo and shared it with a sarcastic caption, thereby taking the piss out of those stools (which I really DO think are ugly) and myself (even though I really DON’T care about the “distressed look”; whatever makes someone happy, I reckon).

In the couple days since I posted that photo, which was autoshared to my personal Facebook, as usual, I’ve sadly still found myself yelling at whatever screen I was facing whenever P45’s infamous rant was re-broadcast somewhere as commentators all over the world rightly condemned him for it. I’m still as thoroughly disgusted now as I was when I first heard him—maybe even more so, actually, which means I need a little levity more than ever.

So I return to my photo and my own pseudo rant. But unlike P45, my rant wasn’t real or consequential. But at least mine wasn’t—um, uh, …the fact is, I STILL have no words for what that thing polluting the White House said. No words. And no sympathy whatsoever.

At some point, when it won’t send my blood pressure into the danger zone, I’ll put my thoughts down, because everyone—the great and the small—needs to utterly denounce him for what he said, and for everything he is and represents.

But, not today. Today, I just needed another brief break.

*Long-time readers will remember that I started calling the current occupant of the White House “Don” because it was a way for me to express my contempt for him without using the obscenities that are so often in my mind when he says or does something imbecilic (every single day, in other words). I read somewhere that he insisted that everyone—all his staff, and maybe even his wife and kids, for all I know—call him “Mr.” followed by his surname that I will not mention. I also noted that everyone in the media and politics called him by the full version of his first name. I surmised that he would hate anyone calling him “Don”, and so I did. But calling him by ANY of his names, even when the intent was to show disrespect, still showed too much respect. So, it’s now “P45” which is derived from “president 45” because, sadly, that’s what he is. But calling him “P45”, with just the letter, reminds me of the videotapes the Russians supposedly have of him, and that makes me laugh a bit. And these days, I’ll take every opportunity to laugh that I can get, because they are so very, very rare.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Australian circus

The video above is a monologue from the TV3 programme, “The Project”, a sort of current events infotainment show. Host Jesse Mulligan often delivers pointed messages about topics of the day, and this one shared yesterday is a good example.

The backstory is that it was revealed that Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has New Zealand citizenship by descent because his father was a New Zealander. He claims he had no idea. This is a huge problem for him because, unlike New Zealand and many other countries, Australia forbids dual nationals from holding office in Australia. It’s an even bigger problem for the current conservative government because they hold a one seat majority in the Australian House, and if Joyce is forced out, the government could fall and new elections could be called.

Julie Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, went on the attack, alleging that a Kiwi working for an Australian Labor Party Senator contacted a friend of his, a New Zealand Labour MP, to make enquiries. There’s apparently an element of truth to this, but it almost certainly didn’t happen the way Julie imagines. In any case, the Australian news media were contacted, the New Zealand government confirmed that Joyce is a New Zealand citizen, and the game was on.

However, as Jesse shows in the video, Julie is being extremely silly in her attack. New Zealanders living in Australia are treated appallingly badly, and when the New Zealand government complains about the latest outrage, the Australian Government completely ignores them. Julie had a tantrum, declaring that she’d find it hard to build trust with anyone in New Zealand involved in ''allegations to undermine the government of Australia"—which means NZ Labour if they win the election next month. But wouldn’t that mean Australia would first have to start actually working with the NZ Government?

There’s actually a huge irony in Julie attacking the NZ Labour Party for supposedly trying to “undermine” Australia’s government, when she herself just meddled in and tried to influence the New Zealand election next month—although, to add another layer of irony, Julie attacking Labour is likely to help them, and certainly won’t hurt them at all. New Zealanders don’t like it when Australia throws its weight around and tries to bully Kiwis—which their parliament seems to do like once a year. It makes Julie a hypocrite to whine about New Zealanders supposedly “undermining” her government when she just did the same thing to New Zealand.

Julie also looks more than a little silly using THAT attack as a distraction, as if we wouldn’t notice. She’s really only upset only that people found out that Barnaby Joyce is a dual national, not that he actually is one and could be forced out of the Australian Parliament.

For his part, Barnaby Joyce claims he didn’t know he was a New Zealand citizen by descent. Yeah, right. He obviously knew his father was a New Zealander, and in the past year numerous Australian MPs have been forced out of Parliament when they were revealed to be dual nationals. Yet Barnaby seriously expects us to believe that despite all the controversies with dual national MPs, and despite the fact his father was a New Zealander, it NEVER occured to him that he might be a dual national? Right. Okay, then. I don’t believe him, but I’m not Australian, so that doesn’t matter.

Interestingly, the fact that Barnaby is a dual national, and New Zealand permits dual nationals with NZ citizenship to run for office, Barnaby could run for our Parliament any time he wants. I’m not sure any of our parties are quite rightwing enough for him, but maybe they could make some sort of accommodation just for him—the ol' Anzac Spirit and all that.

These days, the Australian government looks like a clown-filled circus, and this is only the very latest reason. Amid the chaos, Julie has managed to make herself into an international joke and laughingstock, which isn’t exactly a great accomplishment for someone who’s supposed to be a foreign minister, and Barnaby looks a bit dim. Oops.

Oh well, the Australian Government couldn’t possibly care less what we think about them or their antics, so we may as well just enjoy the hilarious show they’re giving us. It’s terrible, though, that ordinary Australians have to put up with the antics of that government. As an American, I know what it feels like to be embarrassed by the government of one’s homeland. But, then, I'm also a dual national like Barnaby, so may I should cut him some slack. Um, no.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Seen being seen

There are electorates in New Zealand that are strongly associated with either the Labour Party or National Party, and a lot more that are at least theoretically competitive. New Zealand’s electorates are drawn by a non-partisan commission, so the concentration of supporters has to do with the demographic make-up of those electorates. It’s nothing untoward, but it still can be kind of annoying when you support the minority party.

For all but six of the 21+ years since I arrived in New Zealand, I’ve lived in an electorate with an electorate MP from the National Party. Those six years were when Labour’s Ann Hartley represented the Northcote Electorate. I worked on her 1999 and 2002 campaigns, but in 2005, when she lost the seat to the current National Party MP for the electorate, we lived in the Coromandel Electorate (then as now it had a National MP).

When we moved back to Auckland, it was back to the Northcote Electorate and its National MP. I voted for the Labour candidate in 2008, 2011, and 2014, and worked for the candidate in 2014 (my friend Richard Hills, who is now an Auckland Councillor). Each of those years was worse for Labour than the year before, and each time I saw the Labour candidate in Northcote lose and Labour failing to win government.

Nearly six months ago, we me moved to the Hunua Electorate in the former Franklin District (which is now part of Auckland Council). The electorate has only existed beginning with the 2008 election (from 1996 through 2005, it was part of the Port Waikato Electorate, which was abolished in 2005 when the boundaries were redrawn). Since 1996, the voters in the area have always elected a National Party MP, and usually by substantial margins, making this the MOST pro-National Party electorate I’ve lived in.

There’s only one election hoarding (sign) near our house, and it’s for the National Party’s candidate. A little further away, there’s a settlement with several signs, including one for Labour, but you have to travel to the bigest town in the electorate, Pukekohe, to see large numbers of signs, including a lot of Labour signs.

So today when I cleared the letterbox I saw the flier I shared on Instagram (photo above), and it was really nice to finally see something from my side, as it were. we’ve received at least a couple fliers from the current National Party MP, at least one of which was paid for by the taxpayer (perfectly legal at that time), as well as the taxpayer-funded newspaper I mentioned in the photo caption. Because I’ve been in the printing and publishing industries for so many decades, I know how much a paper like that costs to produce. That MP, Judith Collins, is from the Papakura Electorate, which the Hunua Electorate mostly surrounds. So, one could argue it was an easy mistake, but it was sloppy and also kind of annoying to receive a taxpayer-funded paper from someone who’s not even our MP. I put our copy directly into the recycle bin, unread.

Aside from the National Party stuff, we also received a badly colour laser printed flyer from NZ First promoting a public meeting, and two separate copies of a flier promoting a new racist pressure group fronted by a former National Party leader who later became leader of the Act Party before he failed to win an election for them, too. Maybe the bitterness has kind of festered?

All of this is much less than what I was used to seeing in Northcote, where we constantly got things from various parties, and hoardings were everywhere. Here, it’s suprisingly—well, peaceful, is probably the best word. But campaigning IS happening in the electorate—just not where we are. The local business group is having a candidate forum later this month which I hope to go to so I can actually meet the candidates.

Every election since the Hunua Electorate came into existence, I’ve known the Labour candidate, though apart from 2011, when Richard Hills was the candidate, I only knew them through social media. Labour has a policy of running candidates in every electorate in the country, but when the electorate is unwinnable, the Labour candidate can be a sort of “sacrificial lamb”. In Hunua, a painted stick would win with a 16,000 vote majority just as long as it wore a National party rosette (which is not a slam against the current MP, just the harsh reality of this electorate). Because of that, Labour has sometimes had candidates they wanted to “train” run in unwinnable electorates like Hunua so they could get campaign experience without risking anything. Their real job is to promote the Party Vote for Labour, because it's the nationwide Party Vote total that matters, and even unwinnable electorates can add to a winning nationwide tally.

So, I have no illusions or high expectations for success in this electorate next month. Although I’ve never met the current MP, and he’s a bit of an invisible backbencher, I haven’t detected any sort of groundswell against him. The National Party will also probably win the Party Vote in this electorate, unless there’s a huge nationwide swing to Labour, in which case it will tighten up dramatically (this last happened in 2002 when the National Party suffered its worst-ever election defeat under then-Leader of the Opposition, Bill English).

While I’m realistic about what the results of the election will be in this electorate, I nevertheless like to see Labour promoted. That’s not just a “fly the flag” kind of thing, but a long-term marketing necessity. Sure, the electorate is currently overwhelmingly pro-National Party, but as more and more housing developments are added, the demographics will change. Also, people who already support Labour, or who might do so, need to know the party is here in this electorate, too, and wants their vote. Being seen matters for both groups.

And that’s why I was especially glad to see the Labour Party flier show up in our letterbox. By itself, it won’t influence this year’s election, but it’s part of the necessary groundwork to one day make this electorate competitive, and that’s something that’s absolutely possible. Something as simple as a flier—being seen being seen—is part of what will make the possible, probable.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New media realities

All media companies are trying to figure out how to do their work in the Internet Age. Publishing ink on paper is not longer enough, and neither is a text-based website alone. Instead, a multi-media—what experts call “rich content”—is now necessary for any company in the news and information business. This is mostly a good thing.

The video above is from The Atlantic, a venerable American magazine founded in 1857, and it talks mostly about media coverage on television. The video was shared on their YouTube Channel—a print media company that has moved ot a lot of online publishing made a video that’s available online talking about other media companies that themselves make their content available online. It kind of completes the circle.

But all traditional print media companies are now multi-media, as are traditional broadcast news and information companies, though some do it better than others. You’d expect a broadcaster to do a good job of posting video online to an open platform like YouTube, and the USA’s ABC News does a pretty good job on their YouTube Channel. Similarly, the Associated Press—a company that used to be called a “wire service” because news stories from overseas were sent to newspapers by telegraph, then teletype before branching into radio and television—post a large numbers of videos with varied subjects to their YouTube Channel.

Newspapers are a much more varied bunch. The New York Times does a good job with their YouTube Channel, posting both current topical news items and more “back of the paper” items that may add more context or detail to a print story, or they could even be independent of anything in the print or online editions. The Guardian’s YouTube Channel is similar. At the bottom of the heap, papers like the Chicago Tribune have a YouTube Channel that seems like an afterthought because it’s poorly curated and not updated very frequently.

New Zealand’s newspaper sites—that of the New Zealand Herald and the papers owned by Australian company Fairfax—are similar to the Chicago Tribune: Slowly updated with new content, content which isn’t terribly newsworthy most of the time, and often not terribly interesting. Their YouTube Channels are so useless, in fact, I felt there was no point in providing a link (both the Herald and Stuff do have channels, of course, but if you look at the URLs I reluctantly included for those Channels, you’ll see the publishers couldn’t even be bothered to get a proper YouTube address—even I have one of those!).

If someone goes to the Stuff website, many stories have videos made by Fairfax journalists. Visitors to the New Zealand Herald website will find the same thing. What is incredibly annoying about those videos is that none are embeddable on other sites (like this blog) so that if I want readers to see the video, they need to go to the site, presumably so the site can keep the visitor or, at least, have them see ads. In fact, it’s almost impossible to watch a video on those sites without sitting through an unskippable ad—even when the video IS an ad! That’s not just annoying, it’s contrary to the developing ethos of online videos, namely, that they’re easily sharable, and that long ads can be skipped. This does explain why both newspaper publishers have rubbish YouTube Channels.

As bad as the Herald and Stuff are, there are good New Zealand options. First is Radio New Zealand (now known as RNZ). Their text news coverage is first rate, and they have two YouTube Channels: A general Channel that has much of their programming and RNZ Live News, which is used for livestreaming news and the recorded versions. Newsroom is a relatively recent start-up news site that offers conventional text stories as well as video. The site is gaining particular attention for its investigative journalism, which the TV broadcasters seldom do these days. The Spinoff is a 3-year-old sometimes irreverent site that provides news and commentary from a more or less Left and younger perspective. It has a related YouTube Channel that doesn’t do stories as much as explain things, though it’s not well managed. It also produces podcasts.

These days there are also plenty of online-only options. There are sites like Vox (whose YouTube Channel is what Newsroom’s should be like) and BuzzFeed, for example, that produce a wide variety of content, including text and video. But there are also some that specialise in video information, including ones I’ve shared before, like [links are to their YouTube Channels] TED-Ed, CGP Grey (who also is part of a podcast called Hello Internet), ASAP Science, and The Thinking Atheist (which is an online radio show with audio released as podcasts, and also videos released on his YouTube Channel, where his podcasts are also available), among others (and countless more that I haven’t shared on this blog).

There’s clearly a number of different approaches to the changing media landscape that various organisations are taking these days, and they have various funding models to make them work (a topic in itself). What they all have in common is that they’re trying to meet the consumers of news and information where those consumers are, and that primarily means on mobile devices, and it may mean text, video, and/or audio content.

I firmly believe that newspapers printed on paper are doomed, and they will die out far sooner than anyone realises—and twice as fast as media companies want to believe. Magazines will evolve, as The Atlantic, for example, is doing, but printed versions of most magazines will probably die out, too. Even the name we gave to newspapers and magazines as a class—periodicals—has become irrelevant as newspapers and magazines alike publish stories online between their print editions, and that often includes things that never make it to their print editions—not just the obvious audio and video, but even just text-based stories. This is what “periodicals” are evolving into.

Many people are sad about all this change, and plenty of older people are finding it difficult to cope with the new online realities. Younger people—digital natives and digital immigrants alike—are adapting quite well, and many now expect as a matter of course to be able to access breaking news and in-depth information in text, audio, and video formats on their phones and tablets. I know I certainly do, and I would be very annoyed if I couldn’t get that content on my phone—not that this is ever problem.

So, the ability to access news and information in a variety of multi-media forms, and being able to access that wherever we are, is becoming the norm. I worry a bit about those who cannot adapt, but I worry more about how the huge amount of choice on offer can make it easier to spread low-quality stuff, or bad or misleading information (regardless of whether it's bad or misleading deliberately or accidentally). And that’s why I say all this change is mostly a good thing.

I hope it proves to be very good.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


News and media companies are increasingly diversifying. Traditional newspaper publishers now expect their journalists to record video and take photographs, as well as to prepare their stories to the paper’s website. Online-only media outlets create text-based stories as well as videos and often audio podcasts. This is the new reality. And somehow us small “content creators” need to fit into the multi-media expectations that are part of this new media landscape. I’m no different.

For quite awhile now I’ve been sharing things I post to Instagram by embedding those posts here. I usually talk about the post in more detail, but I nevertheless am sharing the Instagram post, and not just re-publishing the photo. Similarly, I now publish announcements when I post another AmeriNZ Podcast episode, as I did yesterday. I’ve also embedded videos from my AmeriNZ YouTube Channel. But until today, I’ve never embedded anything I first posted to my AmeriNZ Facebook Page. I have no idea why I haven’t.

The embedded Facebook post up top is from the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, and it’s something that in a somewhat different format could have been a blog post. In the past, I’ve adapted things I’ve posted to Facebook into blog posts (as I did last on Monday), but I’ve never just embedded one of my Facebook posts before today, and I think it’s time I did.

The way one gets attention on Facebook—what they call “Reach”—is by having people read posts there, comment on them, share them, etc. I’ve always shared announcements of new blog posts and podcast episodes, but I’ve also shared articles to the Page, and I’ve sometimes written commentary to go along with the things I’ve shared, as I did today, and sometimes they’re longer and blog post like.

One of the ways to keep people interested in a Facebook Page is to post things to the page, but not just shares of things from other sites (like my blog or podcast or YouTube Channel), but also original content created for the Page. That’s what today’s post was—original content. Rather than repurposing and reqorking that content into a blog post, I think it makes more sense to embed the posts here, as I already do with Instagram posts (which is also owned by Facebook, of course).

There are several reasons for this. First, it potentially increases the “reach” of posts as well as potentially increasing awareness that I even have a Facebook Page. If my goal is to increase awareness of whatever content I create, it makes more sense to embed things from other places than to re-create it here. Although, just like now, I’m likely to use it as a starting point for further commentary, as I also do with my Instagram posts and YouTube videos.

Those who maximise their Facebook Pages also do live video broadcasts and post recorded videos as part of the mix of content they chare on their page. I haven’t yet done a Facebook Live video, but I wouldn’t rule that out. I can later embed the recorded version of the video here, as I did the other day with a Labour Party Facebook video.

Media companies do all the same things I do, only they do more of it and they monetise what they do. I’ll never be in competition with them, but if I want to gain and grow an audience, I need to be doing some of the same things they do, but—and this is the tricky part—without sacrificing any particular part or medium. This is going to require a lot more organisation than I’m used to doing, and I’ll have to actually start planning and scheduling what I want to post, where, and when.

While all this is new for me, it’s not really new for anyone, at least, not the individual parts. With blogging, for example, my blogging friend Roger Green has long planned his posts, a discipline I’ve always admired but (so far) failed to emulate. I also know that the prominent YouTubers I watch plan their videos well in advance and don’t just turn on their cameras and start talking. I also know podcasters who make notes for the episodes they record. I’ve done very little of any of that. This will have to change.

What I’m really talking about here is doing the same sorts of things I’ve always done, but doing them slightly differently and in a more planned and structured way. That doesn’t mean I won’t still do spontaneous or unplanned things like blog posts—I doubt I could stop myself even if I wanted to. But it should mean there could be a little more coherence and unity to to all the things I post to various places.

I mention this at all because I believe in transparency, and also because I’m just one small, tiny example of what major media organisations are also going through on a much larger scale. Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little more about that part, because some of what media organisations are doing is really interesting and even exciting.

Mainly, we’re all—content creators and consumers (and I’m both, of course) alike—finding our way through this new media landscape together. I like that. Now, let’s see where this leads.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Just one more

It’s Friday, the end of the week, and I’m a giver, so one more post for today: A photo of Bella from earlier today. She’s in the same general spot as in yesterday’s post, but she’s on the other side of the vertical blinds, with one arm still through them (and I like the weird “slice” of sunlight across her shoulder). Moments later, she moved.

I decided against sharing this photo on Instagram/Facebook because it’s so similar to yesterday’s. And, besides, apparently posting photos without people’s faces is now pinging algorithms, and it’s all the rage to worry. Of course.

Whatever. I just thought it was a cute photo.

AmeriNZ Podcast 333 ‘One Week' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 333 – One Week” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast: “If a week is a long time in politics, we’ve been through a year this past week. This episode is mainly updating all the many changes since last week’s episode.”

Polls apart

If a week is a long time in politics, then this past week has been a year for New Zealand politics. This week the NZ Labour Party and its leader, Jacinda Ardern, soared in the latest opinion poll from the same company whose poll helped to seal the fate of the previous party leader. Labour’s position now is dramatically different from what it was a week earlier, and it is now within striking distance of changing the government. It’s a dramatic turnaround in only one week.

Labour’s turnaround IS dramatic. In the Newshub/Reid Research from the end of July, Labour was on 24.1%. That was less that Labour received in the 2014 election (25.13%) and in 2011 (27.48), both of which were considered disastrous at the time.

Reid’s August 8 poll, however, had Labour soaring to 33.1%. National, which was on 45.2% in the earlier poll, dropped to 44.4%. The 0.8 point fall for National would be statistically insignificant by itself, but this is the lowest point for National since Reid Research started polling for 3 News/Newshub back in February 2009 (for the 2011 election). In poll analysis, trends matter as much or more than actual numbers, and if National continues to drop, even if only slight amounts at a time, that could spell real trouble for them.

One thing I haven’t seen any news outlet mention is that the current split between Labour and National is almost exactly the same as the general election result in 2008, when National won government from Labour. That year’s result was 33.99% for Labour and 44.93% for National, who went on to form a minority government. This means that Labour is closer to being able to win government than at any time since the 2005 election (when Labour won re-election to government with 41.1% to National’s 39.1%).

The votes that Labour gained came primarily from the Greens, who lost more than a third of their support (from 13% down to 8.3%), and New Zealand First, who lost nearly a third of theirs (from 13% to 9.2%). The minor parties all stayed basically the same.

The dramatic rise in Labour’s fortunes is clearly the result of changing leaders. We know this, first, because disaffected Labour voters tend to go primarily to the Greens and NZ First, and they’re “coming home”. This is especially seen in the “preferred prime minister” beauty contest in which Jacinda Ardern polled 26.3%, a huge rise of 7.6 points. That’s impressive all in its own, but she’s now statistically in a dead heat with National Party leader Bill English, who is on 27.7%. NZ First leader Winston Peters, who has been the second most preferred prime minister for months, is now in third place, down 1.9 points to 10%. This is the highest poll rating for a Labour Party Leader in years, higher than any leader since Helen Clark was Prime Minister, prior to the 2008 general election.

All of that is why it’s simplistic to suggest that Labour is doing well only because of the troubles the Green Party had in recent weeks. The Greens certainly were hurt by co-leader Metiria Turei’s admission of having committed benefit fraud a couple decades ago, followed by her resignation as co-leader of her party this week [see: “Timeline: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei's downfall” from RNZ]. However, because Labour also took a large amount of support from NZ First (and a tiny bit from National), and because Jacinda Ardern’s personal popularity soared, this is a case of Labour doing well, with the Greens’ troubles possibly expanding the growth in support beyond what Labour would have had anyway.

However, in order to win Government, Labour needs to take votes from National, not from the Greens or NZ First, both of whom are potential coalition partners. In other words, the centre-left needs to grow its share of the vote, not just rearrange it. In 2002, National’s vote collapsed as its voters just stayed home, giving it its worst-ever election defeat (Bill English was the leader at that time, too). There’s no evidence that National could face that sort of shellacking this year, however, continuing questions about its handling of their MP Todd Barclay’s mistreatment of a worker have the potential to weaken National’s vote, and the fact it’s been in government for nine long years means that some voters will be bored with National and wanting change.

The main job here is for Labour and the Greens. Labour needs to focus on taking votes from National, some of which are definitely winnable (actually, NZ First could do this, too). The Greens need to regroup and recover from Metiria Turei stepping down as co-leader. For a coalition government to be left-leaning, the Greens must be stronger than NZ First. Labour can’t do that for the Greens—they have to prove themselves to the electorate. It's important to note that even now, at 8.3%, the Greens are polling significantly higher than their results in 2002, 2005 or 2008 (7%, 5.3%, and 6.2%, respectively). So, this a definitely doable.

It’s 40 days until the 2017 General Election, and the real campaign hasn’t actually begun yet (and won’t until after Parliament rises). The campaignING, however, is in full swing, and as it picks up pace, and when the TV commercials begin, we’ll probably see more movement in the polls. I doubt they’ll be as volatile as we saw over the past week, but movement is inevitable—and we can’t rule out big changes.

One week is a long time in politics. The election is six weeks from tomorrow: Not all that long, but with the week we’ve just been through, right now that sounds like an eternity.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Secret kitty

I shared the photo above on Instagram and my personal Facebook today, and the caption explains what it’s about. But the background story is how mile the weather has been the past few days. It’s rained a lot (still), but today started out sunny and mild, something Bella took advantage of. I don’t blame her.

We’re supposed to get more rainy weather and some cool days are bound to return before Spring begins on September 1, so the recent respite has been more of a hint of what is to come than an actual change in the weather. I’m really looking forward to Spring, paricularly considering how lousy this winter has been.

Bella, however, will find ways to enjoy the day regardless, and will find nice warm places to sleep. Today she was a secret kitty, but every day she’s a good kitty. Sometimes it’s nice to just stop and enjoy that.

Valedictory Statement - Annette King

As every Parliament draws to a close, departing Members of Parliament deliver their final speech, known as their Valedictory Statement. Today, long-time Labour MP Annette King delivered hers as she winds down her 33 year career. What an awesome ride it’s been!

Annette has been a Member of Parliament for longer than I’ve been in New Zealand, so she’s always been part of the political scene for me. Most recently, she was Deputy Labour Leader until she stood aside as she prepared to leave Parliament and Jacinda Ardern, now Labour Party Leader, was selected.

In this speech (video above, beginning around 2:35), Annette talks about some of the highlights of her long career, many of which were part of historic times. I’m most familiar with her work during the Helen Clark Labour Government of 1999-2008, and I always thought she did a good job.

If you watch to the end, you’ll notice how collegial the New Zealand Parliament can be, with MPs from all the parties in Parliament coming forward to give a hug and kiss to Annette, as visitors in the Public Gallery sing a waiata (song). If only Parliament could be like that every day.

Farewell, Annette, and thank you for your service to New Zealand. Over and out.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The day I could have died, but didn’t

One year ago today was the day I could’ve died, but didn’t. The fact I didn’t die is partly due to a huge amount of luck, but the fact I’m unlikely to die any time soon is because I did something I thought was too difficult: I talked to my doctor. Because I did, and what happened afterward, I’m here to tell the tale.

Some of you will remember my adventure last year, and the developments since. This post covera all that, but is mostly about what preceded that tale.

The story actually begins a couple years ago. My dentist had referred me to a periodontist to treat gum disease, and at the conclusion of the exam he asked me when I’d last seen my GP. It had been years, because I was one of those people who didn’t go to the doctor unless I was sick. “You’d better make an appointment for a check-up as soon as you can,” he said. “Gum disease can lead to heart attack and stroke”.

So, I went, had the routine blood tests and found out that my good cholesterol was bad, my bad cholesterol was worse, and I was veering close to being pre-diabetic. I also had high blood pressure. The doctor wanted to put me on medication, but I resisted, convinced that if I just lost weight and got fitter, it would all resolve itself. It didn’t work out that way.

Despite my “best” efforts, I didn’t lose enough weight nor get fit enough. I was often tired, which I thought was because I was unfit, or maybe I needed a multivitamin. And, even though I did significantly improve my cholesterol levels, my blood pressure was still high, and I felt terrible.

Because I felt bad, I agreed to go on blood pressure medication, a low dose to start, which is the usual procedure. It didn’t really help, which isn’t a surprise. So, they raised my dosage, and I felt even worse. I thought the higher dose was the cause, that it was giving me chronic indigestion.

August 7, 2016: That very nearly fateful day.
August 7 of last year, Nigel and I went to Auckland’s CBD to meet up with family for lunch to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday. We walked up Wellesley Street toward Sky City. It was uphill. I became extremely winded and had to stop frequently. I was sweaty, but it was a kind of cold sweat. We finally got to the restaurant and I sat down. I felt for a short time that I might be nauseas, but it passed. I felt terrible. As I sat and rested, I eventually started to feel better.

I knew this wasn’t right, and that I needed to go back to my doctor. Nigel coached me on what to say, how to be clear about how badly I was feeling and how to insist on a different drug. That was the plan, anyway.

As planned, I told my doctor about how badly I’d been feeling, and about the incident in the Auckland CBD. She took notes, then listened to my heart and chest and was concerned. She had an ECG taken, saw an unusual rhythm, and the next thing I knew I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital. I felt like a bit of a fraud because that day I felt fine. I thought it was an awful lot of fuss for a bit of indigestion.

The Emergency Department hooked me up to monitors and devices, and the heart rhythm they got was abnormal, but not necessarily definitive. The attending doctor wanted to have me do the cardiac stress test on a treadmill, but the earliest outpatient appointment was two days later, and he didn’t want to wait. So, he admitted me so the test could be done the next day.

The next day, they hooked me up to wires and monitors and had me walk on the treadmill as they increased the incline and speed. They watched my vitals every second. They stopped the test after only a couple minutes. I felt fine, no pain or discomfort, but they didn’t like what they saw.

Later that day, I was seen by the cardiologist who said I needed an angiogram, which is where they insert a probe into an artery and direct it to the heart to check for blockages. That procedure would be done the next day.

When they did they angiogram, they discovered I had a 90% blockage in the main coronary artery feeding one entire side of my heart. They immediately inserted a stent to open up the artery (in other countries, this is often a second procedure). I’m told that my colour immediately improved after the procedure was done, and I felt really good.

I learned that what I’d thought was some sort of reflux was most likely angina, a pain caused by heart or coronary artery disease. I was also told that I was lucky that I’d never had a heart attack, and, in fact, they were surprised about that. And that I was still around.

What’s now obvious is that the day one year ago today in the Auckland CBD was about as close as one can get to having a heart attack without actually having one. But the truly sobering part is that if I’d had a heart attack that day, it very possibly—probably?—would have been fatal.

According to the New Zealand Heart Foundation, 172,000 New Zealanders are living with heart disease of some sort, and 33% of all deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, making it New Zealand’s leading cause of death. It kills a New Zealander every 90 minutes; many of those deaths are preventable.

Since that day last year when I could have died, I’ve continued to lose weight (8.6 kilograms, or 18.95 pounds so far), had medication adjusted, and have done really well. My cholesterol is not only in the normal ranges, it’s actually better than that (as is recommended for people with a stent), and my blood pressure is well controlled. And all of this—all of it—is because I spoke up and told my doctor how I was feeling.

One of my childhood friends had a heart attack a couple weeks ago. Actually, he had two, because he ignored the symptoms of the first one and rationalised it away, just as I had done. He was lucky, too, and is still here to warn others not to ignore the signs of a heart attack.

The message here is simple: First, pay attention to your body, and take action when something isn’t right. Second, talk to your doctor! Doctors are amazing people, but they’re not mind readers: They can’t always know to look for things that could be wrong if we don’t tell them how and what we’re feeling. We’re not “bothering” them by telling them about something that doesn’t seem right—we could be saving our own lives. Your doctor is your ally in this goal—help them help you.

I learned this lesson before it was too late. Now you have, too.

Some footnotes: This post is a revised version of something I posted to my personal Facebook today, and that was a revised version of an article that's about to be published in a small community newspaper. The photo of Nigel and me is cropped from a larger photo taken a year ago today (I cropped the others out to preserve their privacy). I’ve hated that photo, yet refer to it all the time for the same reason: I see death in my face. All the colour had drained out of my skin, and I was pale and ashen. I was also so much bigger then, and so clearly unwell. This photo reminds me of how close I came to checking out. And the reason all of that changed is what I said, and one more thing—sitting right next to me: Nigel. He was strong for me when I couldn’t be, and helped me get where I am. He still does that. So, he had to be in the photo, too; besides, just look at him! 😀

Also, the graphic about the signs of a heart attack at the top of this post is from the New Zealand Heart Foundation website. The commercial below has been in heavy rotation on New Zealand television:

Time to enrol

The video above is the latest ad from the NZ Electoral Commission reminding New Zealanders to enrol by August 23—a little over two weeks from now. It’s good to remind people.

And reminding Kiwis to register to vote—or to make sure they’re registered of they think they are—is why I’m sharing the ad here, and why I shared the Facebook version there, too. The other reason I’m sharing it, though, is because people overseas may be interested to see how elections are promoted in New Zealand.

When the TV ads for the parties start, I’ll share them, too.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Songs I found

I often talk about the things I find on the Internet when looking for something else. Sometimes it’s new information, sometimes it expands on and provides more details about something I know. But there are also times when something sends me looking for more information, and this week was one of those times.

The video above is the music video for “All We Are” by German (I think…) group Jonah from their new album, Wicked Fever. I went looking for the song because it was used in the Vodafone ad I shared this past Wednesday, and I wondered who did it and what the whole song sounded like.

Whenever I look for a song I don’t know, I start with the obvious—the chorus—but often it’s too generic to help when I don’t know what I’m trying to find. So this time I used one lyric from the song I thought was distinctive—“We're just like oxygen”—and that led me to the video above.

This was actually far easier than finding the next song on my list.

HGTV New Zealand is running a promotional commercial for its programming (no video of which is available) that featured a song I quite liked—the melody, the arrangement, and the vocals. But I could never seem to remember any of the lyrics. I Googled some of the lyrics and each time found a song that was completely different. Then I’d forget about it.

Then one evening I pulled out my iPad and tried again, searching other lyrics and I hit on a blog post where the person was talking about songs used in YouTube videos that they liked, and the first one they’d traced back to a site that licenses songs for film, video and TV use, including commercials. The song is called “Love is Home” and it was written by Jake Shillingford and Nicholas Evans and licenses to use it are sold on a site called Audio Network [LISTEN]. They don’t say who performs the vocals.

So, I bookmarked the site, and went to bed, intending on looking it up again the next day. Only trouble was, I made a mistake and I lost the link. I needed to find it again.

I again ran into problems finding the song, but I remembered the post about YouTube, added that, and eventually found Audio Network again. To be honest, this time it was really good luck more than a good and methodical system, but I got there. Mystery solved, and all that.

Because of this fraught second search I found Audio Network that, at first, seemed to be an interesting source for licensed music. However, there’s one major drawback: Each use is a separate project—each YouTube video, for example—and it requires a separate license and separate license fee. This makes some sense, and if someone wanted to use a piece as theme music, they could probably negotiate a special license (and fee…). But there was a bigger problem: A convoluted system for registering the fact one is licensed to use a song in a YouTube video, a system that involves dealing with what is apparently an inevitable copyright claim against one’s video. Having experienced that once long ago, I have no desire to go through that again, so I won’t be using any of their music. The music I do use is free, anyway.

There’s nothing particularly new about me searching for a song, and a couple years ago I blogged about one such effort, when I found the Fall Out Boy song “Uma Thurman”, something I found by Googling something like, “song with Munsters theme in it”, and then I found a really cool music video, which was really the reason I blogged about it at all.

This time, it went the other way around: I blogged about a TV commercial, and then set out to find the song used in it. I like finding out new things, and I also like solving mysteries. This time, I did both. I bet it’ll happen again, too.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Book Talk: The Complete Wendel

The Complete Wendel
by Howard Cruse, introduction by Alison Bechdel

This is a book I actually finished in June, around the time I finally posted my “Book Talk” post about Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One by Chas Addams. In fact the main reason I published that post was to get it out of the way before I talked about this book. And then I got busy with things and forgot. Oops.

As I pointed out many years ago, I’m a slow reader, and under the best of circumstances it can take me a fair while to get through a book. That was true with this book, too, though I was faster than normal because—well, here’s my GoodReads review:
Reading this book was like visiting old friends: I read many of the comics back when they were new, and in the cast of characters I saw many people I knew in real life. The characters were fun, had distinct personalities, and were definitely gay. They also had both a libido and sex lives, which wasn't common in those days. In fact, "Wendel" was the first gay comic dealing with real life and what gay people went through. It inspired other comics artists, such as Alison Bechdel ("Dykes to Watch Out For"), who wrote the introduction to this collection.

The comics were written in the 1980s and included the topics of the day: Ronald Reagan and the rise of the "Religious Right", the 1987 March on Washington, and, of course, the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Those old enough to remember those times will recognise the feelings of annoyance and even anger and rage—and, too often powerlessness—about what was being done to gay people at the time. Younger people can get a first-hand view of those times through these comics, and the characters who reflected the experiences of the witnesses to those years. And yet, it was all presented with Cruse's humour and good natured storytelling.

So, sure, this book is a document of the time it was written, but it's far more than that. It's a whole cast of characters, most of them gay, all of them with full personalities and lives that mainly just entertain us. The rest is a bonus.

Visiting them again was fun, nostalgic, and well worth the time.
Because I enjoyed “visiting them again”, I read it quite a bit faster than I wanted to. Still, some of the stories had a lot to read, and that helped moderate my speed a bit.

I know not everyone is a fan of comics, and I’m not necessarily, either—it really does depend on what it is. In this case, I loved the comics back in the day, so I started out liking them. However, I never read all of them when they were new because I didn’t have access to them. So, this wasn’t just re-reading stories, it was also reading the ones I missed. In that sense, it’s a bit like the Addams book.

Among the books I have on my current reading pile are ones that are new (to me) and one that I first read decades ago. One of the new ones has been going well, the old one, not so much. But they’ll be subjects of posts in due course. Apparently, I’ve started something, no matter how long it takes me to get there.

What I read: The Complete Wendel by Howard Cruse, print edition, 288 pages. Published by Universe Publishing, 2011.

This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

The real trouble with the news

This video from Vox explains what’s really wrong with the news media in the USA. It’s not what they report, as mainstream people already know. Instead, it’s about how they report it—normalising the abnormal, acting as if “this is fine”. It isn’t.

Anyone who’s run across righwingers on social media has inevitably come across their favourite dismissal of facts and evidence: The news media, they declare, “lies”. The more extreme, less educated, or most trolling-inclined rightwingers will use Don’s favourite cliché, “fake news”, but I’ve noticed that most conservatives seem to try to avoid that stupid phrase precisely because it’s so banal and silly. Instead, they try to say the same thing in other ways.

I recently had a rightwinger tell me in no uncertain terms that everything reported about the collusion between Don’s campaign (and possibly Don himself) and the Russian government is all “lies”. No evidence for that bold assertion was offered, except one: Dan Rather. It wasn’t anything Rather has said in the six long months since Don took over, despite Rather’s often pointed and stern criticism of Don and his regime. No, the “evidence” was the incident in 2004 when Rather reported controversial, probably faked, documents alleging that George Bush the Second, then running for re-election as president, had received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently, the rightwing’s whole position is that one guy being very wrong some 13 years ago means that ALL mainstream journalists are always wrong nowadays. Even though Rather doesn’t work for any mainstream news media organisation.

I call this the “Yes But Defence”, which goes like this: Make any criticism of Don and/or his regime, and rightwingers respond with, “yes, but X did/said this thing that is completely unrelated to this issue, but it ‘proves’ the news media is lying”.

However, despite the howls and shrieks of protest from the rightwing, the fact is that most journalists get it right most of the time. There haven’t been massive retractions of the stories reported about Don and his cabal, and, in fact, the error rate is about the same now as it was, for example, during the Administration of President Obama. Yet the rightwing persists on pushing the myth of “lying” news media because they have no other defence against the facts and evidence presented against Don and his cabal. So, the reality is that the news media doesn’t “lie”, they present truth that the rightwing doesn’t like to hear.

Rightwingers often try to get around the fact that they’re actually just complaining about truth and facts by calling it “negative”, and alleging that the coverage is “unfair” because it’s negative. But this, too, is mere deflection: By claiming the news media is being “unfair” to Don and his regime, they don’t have to deal with any of the facts and evidence they don’t like, they can just claim to be “victims”.

It seems to me that it’s these latter claims—of “unfairness” and “negativity”—that have led to the news media pulling their punches in reporting on Don and his cabal. They can use multiple sources for the stories they report—and they do—but that will never be good enough for rightwingers. However, by controlling how they present those stories, how they report the verified facts, they end up with their “this is fine” bias.

Sure, most mainstream journalists tend to favour the status quo, anyway, and see a more or less steady path of government, something that can lead them to fail to notice when things are deeply disturbed, and the path is no longer steady. But reporting on the chaos in the White House and the actions of Don and his cabal as if it’s all perfectly normal and usual isn’t just embracing the status quo, it’s actively denying reality, and it betrays their duty to the public.

Naturally, the rightwing doesn’t see it that way. They’re so wrapped-up and thoroughly invested in their self-proclaimed “victimhood” that they’re incapable of seeing that things are not “normal”, that there’s something very wrong with Don, or that the mainstream news media is merely reporting truth and facts that the rightwing doesn’t like.

But there’s nothing new or unique in the rightwing’s behaviour, and the leftwing does it, too. In fact, the farther one goes out from centre in either direction the more common this sort of behaviour becomes. It’s just that at the moment only the rightwing is doing this, trying to defend and excuse the indefensible behaviour and regime of Don and his cabal. The leftwing will probably join this game once the 2020 presidential election season begins, but for now this is a rightwing thing.

To repurpose an old saying, there’s nothing wrong with the news media that can’t be fixed with what’s right about the news media. The way to ensure facts and truth get out is more evidence-based reporting, not less. The way to ensure fairness is to report more, not less. The way to ensure democracy survives is to report more, not less.

Right now, it’s the rightwing moaning and gnashing its teeth over news media reporting facts and truth that they simply don’t like. Eventually, the leftwing will do it, too. If the news media continues to focus on evidence-based factual reporting, and they do so with full honesty, not blind fidelity to the “this is fine” bias, the truth will win, no matter what the partisans choose to believe. And that’s how it should be.

Friday, August 04, 2017

AmeriNZ Podcast 332 ‘Changes' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 332 – Changes” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast: “Political upheaval, people leaving, people arriving—but this is about New Zealand. There were big changes this week, and there may be some more. This is my main topic this episode.”

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Internet Wading: Religion, poltiics, and photos

Circumstance—chiefly illness, in this case, kept me from a new Internet Wading post on Monday, despite my best intentions. Rather than waste it, better late than never. Besides, some of these are about old topics.

What about beginning with porn? Not literally—the word’s really just in the title of an article: “‘Ancient porn’ sheds new light on Bible verses”, which argues that one has to understand Roman culture, as preserved in the Pompeii, to understand what Paul was on about, and why modern, loving same-gender relationships are not, in fact, condemned by the Christian bible.

“The invention of ‘heterosexuality’” talks about how our modern concepts of sexuality came to be. Short version: It’s all made up.

In “I was the police officer who proposed at Pride – the hatred floored me”, Phil Adlem gives the rest of the story, the part beyond the feel-good social media shares.

Religion having a go at LGBT people is nothing new, but there is such a thing as senisble religion, and last April Jack Jenkins wrote an interesting piece for ThinkProgress, “The Religious Left isn’t what the media thinks it is”. It explains how the Religious Left is different from the Religious Right, and how they’re finding their voice. In July, Jenkins wrote, “The Religious Left is getting under right-wing media’s skin”.

My friend Roger Green recently shared Jenkins’ July piece on a recent “Rambling” post, and he also shared “How to Talk With Religious Conservatives About LGBT Rights”, which I thought was interesting and probably useful to people who want to do this. Quite frankly, I’m a bit over doing that.

Among those who are over religion generally, Alain de Botton spoke with Vox on “atheism 2.0”. I thought this was particularly interesting, not the least because I’ve been thinking many of the same things, especially about the conflict with some of the more agressive atheists.

An article about a secular religion, so to speak, “Eating Clean is Useless” by Michael Easter, suggests, "Clean eating? That's some rich white people shit." Anti-science quasi-politics of any sort drives me around the bend more often than not, and this is one of those things. I’ve always found this sort of fad elitist and the most fervent advocates blind to their own privilege—and how silly they sound.

My old friend Jason saw, and photographed rainbows over Washington, DC, but it made me wonder if DC had heavenly permission to have a rainbow? An Australian-born American religious crackpot lit up his “Ark Encounter” holy theme park, in rainbow light, then Tweeted that “Christians need to take back the rainbow as we do… God owns it…” Naturally, this didn’t go well with the folks on Twitter.

“The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still the richest families in Florence”. Surprised? Well, “Putin’s Hackers Now Under Attack—From Microsoft" surprised me a little.

Maybe some more personal history: “Woman retakes Europe vacation photos in same spots 30 years later”. And, I do love photography, so: "Stunning Photos Showing NYC Subway Cars Being Dumped Into the Ocean” (all the photos are on the photographer’s website).

And that’s a good place to stop this Internet Wading—a post that’s just a drop in the blogging ocean itself.

A good start

By pretty much anyone’s reckoning, Jacinda Ardern is off to a good start as the new Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. The Party’s Facebook video, above, talks about some of that, but the media chatter has also been positive. I can see why.

I’ve watched Jacinda talking to reporters as any party leader does, and she’s always poised and confident, as you’d expect a party leader to be, but she’s also warm, friendly, and jokes appropriately with reporters. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Where former leader Andrew Little and National Party Leader (and prime minister) Bill English sound dry and even boring when talking to reporters, Jacinda sounds engaged and energetic. Where Winston Peters sounds like a smart aleck (and too often a bit of a jerk), Jacinda is genuinely funny. Where leaders of the minor parties further to the right can sound way too earnest and dry, Jacinda sounds passionate and committed, but escapes the dry over-earnestness of the other leaders with her warmth and humour.

The only party leaders who are in the same league in this regard are the leaders of the Green Party, who come across as similarly human. This is particularly fortunate because if Labour gains enough votes, Jacinda will become Prime Minister and lead a government in coalition with the Greens. Imagine having a government that’s fun again, as ex prime minister John Key could be on his good days, but a new government that restores the fun while putting ordinary Kiwis first. For the first time in years, this suddenly seems like a real possibility.

So, yeah, a great start for Jacinda Ardern, and real boost to the New Zealand Labour Party. Hopefully it’s the start of a trend leading to a change in government next month. This story has a lot of life in it yet.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Selling technology

These two videos are ads selling the services of tech companies, and are currently in heavy rotation on New Zealand television screens. The first ad shows use of the technology in a new way, while the second ad takes a very different approach. Both work very well.

The ad up top is promoting international roaming cellphone service, and how relatively inexpensive it is (a longer version is on YouTube). This ad takes what has become a cliché—the bucket list—and presents a twist: A young woman engages in the things on an old man’s bucket list, ending with a reunion. The man is able to share it all thanks to the roaming services of the cellphone provider.

This ad works because the visuals and story are compelling, and the music track (“All We Are” by Jonah [WATCH]) works to help tie it all together. The music moves steadily forward, yet has a wistful sound and feel. There’s one more thing about the ad: The use of the company’s technology is the point, of course, but the young woman is doing mainly conventional things that she just shares using this technology—and shares with the old man, not on social media. If it’s possible to be “old school” and current at the same time, then this is it.

The next ad is selling broadband internet:

What makes this ad so interesting is that it sells technology by NOT using the company’s product—by turning it off, in fact. The “family” in the ad has featured in a series of ads from the company, and in this one the dad gets his kids to come to the dinner table by turning off the router. It’s kind of funny, clearly lighthearted, and very gently plays off a currently popular cliché, that people need to turn off their technology, especially for family time like dinner together. The ad plays off the cliché, but doesn’t pander to it, either. It actually kind of plays with the cliché.

Still, it’s not every day that an ad sells use of a company’s services by showing the subjects of the ad turning off the company’s services. That’s definitely an interesting, and pretty unique, approach.

I have no idea whether these two ads are truly effective, as measured by increased sales. But they’re interesting and didn’t make me want to rip my eyeballs out after seeing them ten or twenty times, so they’re certainly successful in that sense. I like them both.

The ads I personally respond to the most are ones that include the elements displayed in these two ads combined: A little quirkiness, good visuals, an identifiable story, appropriate music, and either humour or a bit of heartstring-pulling (it’s difficult to include both of those in the same ad). I seldom see ads that check all the boxes, and it’s not often that even most of them get checked. But both these ads are only 30 seconds long, and that probably helps.

At any rate, both ads work well.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Life for the party

Today the Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party stepped down, and a new Leader was selected, along with a new Deputy Leader. It’s a mere seven weeks before the general election. A few days ago, this would have seemed impossible, but it’s now reality, and it could turn out to be a turning point. It’s certainly turned the election on its head: A few days ago, I was planning a post I was going to write about the election. My working title was: “The year of the yawn”. That’s certainly been scrapped now.

The short version of the story is that in an interview with TVNZ, Labour Party Leader Andrew Little admitted he’d considered stepping down as leader after months of the Labour Party polling poorly. Labour is currently polling lower than its election result in 2014, which could lead to an historic loss. In fact, there was a very real possibility that if Labour didn’t do better, Andrew Little himself might not make it back into Parliament because, even ranked number one on the Labour Party List, the party’s electorate MPs would take up all the seats the party was entitled to. That wouldn’t just be bad, it’d be an utter disaster.

In his announcement that he was stepping down (video below), Little said that a party leader has to take responsibility for bad polling, and he was. For whatever reason, he just never connected with New Zealand voters, never polling above third place for Preferred Prime Minister. New Zealanders don’t vote for Prime Minister, of course, but the polling is an indicator of whether a party leader is connecting with New Zealand voters. Polling lower than an incumbent prime minister isn’t unusual, but continually also polling lower than one or two other people and the prime minister, especially when combined with low party polling, is an indication that that he just wasn’t getting the party’s message across.

One of the people Little often polled behind was his deputy, Jacinda Ardern, who today become the new party leader (video below; see also: “Jacinda Ardern's best one-liners: 'Mum and Dad are going to get a surprise in Niue'”). She was selected unanimously by the Labour Party Caucus in Parliament, as was her Deputy Leader, Kelvin Davis, MP for Te Tai Tokerau, the Māori Electorate that stretches from Auckland to the top of the North Island. I’ve met both Jacinda and Kelvin several times, and had chats with them. To be clear, we’re not friends, and I don’t know either of them well, but based on my own impressions, I think they’re both really good and capable. Also, people I know and respect rate them highly.

Can this work? I think it just might.

In 1990, Mike Moore rolled the sitting Labour Prime Minister, Geoffrey Palmer, who was leading the party to what would be its worst defeat up until that point. Moore said that he couldn’t prevent the loss, but he could reduce the damage.

In 1993, Moore nearly led Labour back into government, after only one term in Opposition. He didn’t, however, so he was rolled by Helen Clark, who went on to become Prime Minister in 1999.

This has been one example cited by pundits, that Ardern might be able to staunch the bleeding and keep Labour from an historic loss. However, there’s a complicating factor here: Under our MMP electoral system neither Labour nor National will win enough votes to govern alone, and they’ll need coalition partners. This is part of what MMP is designed to do—deliver coalition governments, rather than one party rule. On current polling, it’s possible that Labour could lead a coalition with the Greens and New Zealand First, though Little himself dismissed the idea that such a coalition could work, and while he may have been trying to discourage people from voting for NZ First in the hope it would lead to a change of government, it was in any case an unhelpful thing to say.

Another example cited by more partisan pundits has been the 1983 Australian federal election. That year, Bob Hawke became leader of the Australian Labor Party (they spell it differently) after the then-leader, Bill Hayden, lost a by-election the ALP had been expected to win. The very day that Hawke became leader, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called a snap election hoping to capitalise on ALP disunity. The election was held one month later, and the ALP won in an a landslide.

Personally, I don’t think that either the Mike Moore example nor the Bob Hawke example are particularly relevant: Both were a long time ago, and both were First Past The Post elections. This matters because it’s a very different time now, and because New Zealand’s MMP system makes it easier to change the government than FPTP does.

Moreover, the National Party Leader and current Prime Minister, Bill English, is boring. There’s no one who would seriously suggest that New Zealanders will get excited about electing him. Indeed, National’s poll results have been pretty static, and voters disapprove of the government’s lack of concern or action on the housing crisis, National’s funding cuts to health, lack of concern for mental health funding, and so much more. So, it’s not that New Zealand voters like either National or English, it’s that they didn’t like Labour and Little enough to be bothered voting for change. Now that Labour’s changed, the dynamics of the election have also changed.

Jacinda Ardern is positive, smart, witty, and genuinely likable. She connects with voters in a way that Andrew Little just couldn’t. She’s promised that in 72 hours she’ll announce her plan for the rest of the campaign, including some adjustment to policies. She’s promised a relentlessly positive campaign, and that she and the Labour team will go all out in the campaign of their lives.

Obviously I don’t know if all that will be enough, or if Jacinda will make any difference beyond preventing a bloodbath. But if anyone can turn this around and actually lead Labour to victory, I think Jacinda Ardern can do it. In fact, I think that she’s the only one the Labour Caucus who possibly could.

In seven weeks, we’ll find out if this gamble pays off or breaks the house. At the moment, I’m betting on it turning out far better than many people expect, and far better for Labour than National fears.

Andrew Little announces he’s stepping down:

Newly-elected Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern’s first press conference:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A story that just wasn’t true

As children, we all learn stories that aren’t true, sometimes they’re intended as stories or fables, other times they’re presented as fact. And then there are the stories we take to be real, regardless of whether they were told to us that way, and when we learn they’re not actually true, it can be disorienting. One such non-truthful story, a bible story I learned as a kid, was back in front of me this week.

As a kid, I learned the bible story of the battle of Jericho from the Book of Joshua. Somewhere along the line I also learned the song “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” (the verison above is by Mahalia Jackson). As a child, and for some time afterward, I believed the story. Even though there’s not a shred of evidence to support the biblical story.

These days I can see I may have been a bit gullible. The Wikipedia article has a good summary of the bible’s account:
Joshua sent spies to Jericho, the first city of Canaan to be taken, and discovered that the land was in fear of Israel and their God. The Israelites marched around the walls once every day for seven days with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day they marched seven times around the walls, then the priests blew their ram's horns, the Israelites raised a great shout, and the walls of the city fell. Following God's law of herem the Israelites took no slaves or plunder but slaughtered every man, woman and child in Jericho, sparing only Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who had sheltered the spies, and her family.
There is SO much wrong with that story. The Israelites said they’d been promised the land of Canaan by their god, but ended up slaves in Egypt instead. After their release, they set about conquering and slaughtering the people living there.

Except, they didn’t in this case.

The account was written as much as two and a half millennia after the battle was supposed to have happened. Moreover, extensive archaeological work at Tell es-Sultan, as Jericho is now known, have proven that none of the wall structures date from the time of the supposed battle. For this and other reasons, scholars discount the Book of Joshua as an historic record, and instead suggest the story was written for political reasons.

We can also now prove that the Israelites did not, in fact, slaughter the Canaanites, as the story claimed, and they were a people the Book of Joshua had marked for extermination by the Israelites. An article published by New Scientist, “Bronze Age DNA helps unravel true fate of biblical Canaanites” says that the DNA of the Canaanites still exists in the region.

This story's not really important, nor is the fact that it's not true. The fact that fundamentalist religionists probably still believe the story is true as isn't all that important, either, except insofar as it's bad to reject fact and evidence in favour of believing a false story as if it was true. But there's nothing particularly unique about that, either, and it persists in cultures all around the world. And, in any case, for the religious, religious stories are more about adhering to their religion, and reasons/examples for doing so, than they are about any historic record, despite occasional claims to the contrary by those who have demonstrated a disregard (or, too often, contempt) for actual evidence.

This story is, however, an example of something else: The need for scepticism. When I was a child, I accepted all bible stories as unassailable fact, and it was only as an adult that I learned there was absolutely no supporting evidence for many of the stories I'd once held as factual, other stories (like that of the Battle of Jericho) had been proven untrue, and plenty more that had no conclusive supporting evidence.

Scepticism was a large factor in my development of religious doubt: If so much I had been taught wasn't true, was any of it true? I still haven't finished working through all that, but there was one more positive result of all this: I learned to be sceptical of whatever someone was trying to sell me—not just religion, but also politics, news, even products and services. It's simply not good enough for someone to claim something is true, they have to be able to prove it with fact-based evidence.

So, in this case, I was long ago taught the story of the Battle of Jericho, eventually learned it wasn't true, how they knew that, as well as theories about why the story was invented. And now I know what really happened to the Canaanites (who seem to have been hated by a lot of the peoples in the area). All of that is based on fact-based evidence that anyone can learn about.

Learning what happened to the Canaanites fascinated me this week and captured my attention. The memories of former beliefs, and that song, just came along for the ride.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The story so far this year

I’ve (finally) been able to blog more consistently the past couple months, after four in a row in which I fell short of my goal of an average of one post per day. June I was right on target, and this month I’m running a little ahead, so far. And there are reasons I’m bringing this up.

A good June and (so far) July don’t make up for those four months: At the moment, including this post, I’m 64 posts behind target for where I should be at this point, and that means I need an average of 1.4 posts per day from now until the end of the year in order to reach my annual goal. That’s a tall order.

I know the numbers because I decided to make a spreadsheet to track my progress, or lack of it, so I can better manage the chase. It turns our that I’m a bit too competitive to just give up and accept missing the goal, even though I’m only competing with myself.

However, obviously I can’t do 1.4 posts per day—that has to be an average, and it means some days I need to do multiple posts in order to make up for the days I do only one or even none. Because I’ve resumed recording my podcast, there should be an extra post once a week or so just to promote that, but obviously that alone won’t be enough.

So, that’s part of the reason for this little update: I’m providing fair warning that some days I’ll publish multiple posts. They’ll still mostly all have some sort of commentary by me, and most of them will probably be written not long before I publish them.

The other, bigger reason is more personal: Reaching this annual goal is clearly important to me, and while circumstances made it seem as if I couldn’t possibly achieve my goal this year, I organised the data to check that assumption, found it could be wrong, and saw a path forward toward achieving that goal. Sometimes, it seems, all it may take to achieve goals is organising and determination. In a few short months I’ll know if that’s true in this case.

At any rate, I know that some people couldn’t possibly care less about the mechanics of blogging, or details like I’m talking about here, but some are interested. There also may be other bloggers who run across this and realise they don’t have to give up just because they fell into a patch of low productivity or whatever.

There’s one final reason I’m posting this: I’ve come down with yet another winter plague, and I don’t know that I’ll feel well enough to blog this week. I’d already written this post for a time I might need it, so… here it is.

The truth about blogging, as with so many other avocations, is that if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. It just seems to me there’s no reason to kill the fun because of, in this case, falling behind in publishing posts, not when I could find a way forward. And, blogging is still fun for me; that’s the most important thing of all.